SEO with Super Powers: Exploring Voice Search Optimization

Voice search relies on Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) technology to convert spoken words into text. Over time, ASR systems have evolved, leveraging AI to comprehend underlying user intentions more accurately, enabling the surreal, conversational experiences we’ve come to expect from platforms such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT. 

Although voice search is nothing new to devices (voice search/activation was even a feature on Motorola’s Razr flip phones in the pre-2010s), previous iterations of the technology required users to enunciate and word their requests perfectly, lest the system completely misunderstand their intentions. These previous, clunky iterations of voice search severely limited its usability, and relegated the feature to the bargain bin of history. 

More in-depth voice assistants began proliferating in the early 2010s, brought to the attention of the general public with Apple’s release of Siri in 2011. Although Siri was and continues to be maligned for its limited usefulness, Apple’s release opened the door for other tech giants to join in, resulting in Microsoft’s release of the now defunct Cortana AI assistant in 2014 and Google’s release of Google Assistant in 2016. Despite still being years away from the natural language processing capabilities available to consumers in 2023 in modern AI chatbots, these voice assistants started to become genuinely useful time-saving tools consumers wanted to use. As they continued to improve, voice assistants began to change what consumers expected out of their search experience. 

The sudden emergence of consumer-facing AI tools in 2023 opened the door to a new level of voice search adoption. AI algorithms were now armed with the ability to both accurately comprehend human speech and ascertain user intentions from natural, spoken language like never before. Suddenly, this meant that almost anyone - from young, digital natives to grandmas and grandpas - could make use of voice search, even if they lacked the technical know-how to tailor their queries to the chatbot in question. This dramatic expansion in voice search’s accessibility to the general public means that brands can expect far greater numbers of their customers across all demographic segments to begin handling their searches through these tools. According to the website Search Engine Journal, even in these early days of AI adoption, around 55% of users conduct voice searches on their smartphones.

With an increasing number of users employing voice-activated devices and virtual assistants, Voice Search Optimization (VSO) is becoming an essential tool for generating organic traffic. A relatively new but rapidly growing facet of SEO, VSO is allowing brands to dramatically improve the visibility of their websites to the advanced search tools modern audiences are beginning to migrate to. Understanding how to harness VSO can have tremendous long term benefits for your brand. So, what do brands need to know? 

First off, t's important to note that VSO should not overshadow fundamental SEO best practices. Maintaining a well-rounded approach by optimizing page load speed, ensuring mobile-friendliness, using descriptive meta tags, and creating high-quality, relevant content remains the best way to improve SEO. Your VSO efforts should aim to seamlessly complement your broader SEO strategy.

To begin implementing VSO, businesses need to adapt their existing SEO text to read more like natural, human language. Given that the original queries fed into voice search platforms are all natural language, voice search platforms will prioritize results that they believe best match the intentions of their users. Therefore, overly formal or technical language may actually harm your VSO efforts, even if the language is accurate. Business should also explore translating and localizing content, adapting to regional accents and speech patterns, and understanding cultural nuances to reach a broader user base. This unique aspect of VSO - its reliance on human language - actually offers an advantage to smaller, more local operations which may only have one language or dialect to tailor their content/VSO to.

Another point to remember is that voice search users expect immediate answers to their queries. Their impatience amplified by the efficacy of modern voice search, users are likely to drift away from websites that require them to focus and read critically to glean the answers they want. Structuring content on your website to yield quick, easily-digestible answers to clear-cut questions can dramatically improve how useful users find your website - increasing both click through rates and positive impressions of your brand. This can be accomplished by adopting question-and-answer formats on your pages, using schema markups, and providing concise, information-rich answers wherever possible. Offering this quick gratification can increase the likelihood of your content being favored as a direct answer. 

Extending beyond structure, integrating new ways for people to interact with your brand through their voices will both benefit and delight your users. Voice-enabled shopping experiences (“Hey H&M, find a skirt that looks good with this blouse”), voice-activated payments (“Amazon, please charge this to my gift card on file”), and personalized product recommendations (“Dear Yelp, can you recommend a date-night restaurant based on my previous check-ins?) are all examples of features that enable voice search users to extend their hands-free experience from their search engine into your brand’s own website. 

Search Engine Optimization is one of the most powerful tools in the digital marketing playbook, as it paves the way for free, organic traffic. As search engines have evolved over time, so too have SEO strategies. Brands that fail to keep up with the evolution of SEO will almost always suffer in search rankings, and open the door to competitors eating away at their visibility. This can result in both increased digital marketing costs as well as in a decrease in public confidence in a brand (sometimes it's hard for users to trust a result at the bottom of Google’s page). VSO represents the next evolution of SEO. By implementing VSO before and better than your competitors, you stand to attract a greater number of the growing population of voice search users. As voice search continues to boom, your investments in VSO will only stand to reap more and more rewards. In a world where your customers expect to ask simple questions and receive effective answers, optimizing for voice search is a necessity. So enable your online presence to strike up a friendly ‘conversation’ with your customers that they won’t soon forget.